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15 Nov 2013

NZ Trade Dispute with US

After three years of trade negotiations through the United States-Pacific trade agreement, the relationship between New Zealand and the US is facing some problems.  There are a number of items in dispute, with New Zealand opposing the US on issues such as copyright, medicines, internet freedom, industrial innovation, and ownership of native plants and animals.
Information about recent disputes comes from WikiLeaks, who have released the "intellectual property" chapter of the agreement through a number of media outlets around the world.  The 95-page draft outlines a number of ongoing issues, with New Zealand opposing the US in 190 out of 250 separate references.  New Zealand are not alone in their opposition, however, with several other countries often involved depending on the issue in question.

One of the major areas of dispute is the battle around pharmaceuticals, with US negotiators keen to maintain and extend the dominant position of big pharmaceutical companies.  This issue has some very practical implications in terms of public access to cheaper generic medicines through New Zealand's drug-buying agency Pharmac.  The US were alone in their support of these proposals, with Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei in full opposition. 

New Zealand is the lead nation in the development of alternative proposals to "adopt and maintain measures to encourage the timely entry of pharmaceutical products to the market", with Canada, Singapore, Chile, Malaysia, and Vietnam also on-board.  With a total of 12 countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this alternate proposal represents half of the members. 

Another major area of dispute is based around internet freedom and intellectual property, with US provisions calling for internet service providers to enforce copyright on behalf of foreign corporations, effectively allowing them to close down customers' accounts.  The provisions would also enable a 20 year extension of overseas royalty payments, restrict cheaper parallel importing, and enforce penalties for breaking "digital locks" on regional media.  According to Matthew Rimmer, an Australian expert in intellectual property law, the draft attempts to protect US multinational corporate interests and has "little focus on the rights and interests of consumers, let alone broader community interests." In another area of opposition, New Zealand have come out against US provisions that would allow plants and animals to be patented, along with "diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals."  While the previous issues of dispute serve to protect the drug and entertainment moguls through enhancing the ownership and control of physical and intellectual products, the control of life itself takes the concept of ownership into territory that is considered abhorrent by many. 

Trade Minister Tim Groser refused to comment on the leaked documents, but stressed all negotiations were about meeting "everyone's essential political, commercial and other interests... [Media] are making an assumption there was a massive gap between New Zealand and the United States... But actually we're working through a number of differences of views, differences of interests. It's not just New Zealand and the United States, heavens alive the world's third largest economy Japan is now involved in this negotiation - it's a very intriguing matrix we're working our way through."